Texas faces heat and water crisis in wake of winter storm

By Melissa Mahtani and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:57 PM ET, Sat February 20, 2021
8 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
11:16 a.m. ET, February 20, 2021

Biden approves Texas disaster declaration

From Priscilla Alvarez and Jasmine Wright

President Joe Biden departs after delivering remarks at a virtual event hosted by the Munich Security Conference in the East Room of the White House on February 19, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden departs after delivering remarks at a virtual event hosted by the Munich Security Conference in the East Room of the White House on February 19, in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has approved a major disaster declaration for Texas, unlocking more federal resources to assist the state. 

"Yesterday, President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. declared that a major disaster exists in the State of Texas and ordered federal assistance to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by severe winter storms beginning on February 11, 2021, and continuing," the White House said in a written statement on Saturday.

Biden already approved an emergency declaration for the state last weekend, but the major disaster declaration would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide more resources and assistance, including, for example, supplementing insurance to help individuals with uncovered costs or other costs to make homes habitable.

The White House statement explained:

"Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.
Federal funding is also available to state and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency protective measures and hazard mitigation measures statewide."

Biden met with acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton on Friday and expressed his intent to sign the declaration, which stems from a request by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.

10:28 a.m. ET, February 20, 2021

Texans tell us how they fought to stay warm and seek shelter

Across Texas, millions have been without access to power this week, leaving them in the dark with no heat and water.

Hear their first-hand stories of how they fought to stay warm, struggling with burst pipes and searching for shelter.

Watch the video:

9:50 a.m. ET, February 20, 2021

Texas struggles to get back to normal in the wake of winter storm

From CNN's Jon Passantino, Chris Boyette and Hollie Silverman

Mark Majkrzak gives out bottles of Rain Pure Mountain Spring Water to people in need on February 19, in Austin, Texas. 
Mark Majkrzak gives out bottles of Rain Pure Mountain Spring Water to people in need on February 19, in Austin, Texas.  Joe Raedle/Getty Images

An unprecedented winter storm left four million people without power across Texas this week, and put nearly half of the state's residents under a boil-water advisory.

Much of the state is still dealing with near-freezing temperatures and officials are warning some lingering power outages could drag on for days.

Here's a look at the latest developments:

  • More than 15.1 million people are facing water disruptions, many with notices to boil their water, broken pipes and failing systems amid the frigid cold and power outages state officials said.
  • As of Saturday morning, some 85,000 customers remained without power in Texas, per PowerOutrages.us. In some locations, residents have been without power for several days.
  • Hospitals are grappling with a series of issues, including water, staffing and supply chain disruptions, due to severe weather across the state, Carrie Williams, spokesperson for the Texas Hospital Association, said in a statement Friday. Many hospitals don't have running water or are facing low water pressure or pipes have burst, according to the statement. The hospitals are also under boil-water notices.
  • Covid-19 vaccinations have been delayed across many hospitals and public health partners due to the weather and shipping delays.
  • Millions of homes have had their power restored since the peak of the outages and nearly 300 warming centers have been opened across the state. For the first time in more than four days, the energy emergency that caused millions of Texans to lose power and sparked a water crisis has ended, the state’s grid operator, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), announced on Friday.
  • Texans will get some relief from the cold today. Saturday morning temperatures may be as low as 20 degrees for many inland locations, including Dallas and College Station, but the welcome return of onshore winds and full sunshine will warm the state into the 50's and 60's in the afternoon, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said. Most of the state will stay above freezing after that initial thaw.
  • President Biden said he plans on traveling to Texas next week, with the caveat that he would only do so if his visit doesn't further burden the state.

9:38 a.m. ET, February 20, 2021

Here's how you can help Texas winter storm victims

From CNN's Lauren Lee

Unprecedented winter storms blanketed Texas, causing bitter cold temperatures and widespread power outages throughout much of the state.

While much of the power in the state has been restored, residents continue to face freezing temperatures and water shortages due to overwhelmed water systems and leaks caused by frozen pipes.

President Biden has declared a state of emergency, which makes people eligible for federal assistance. Still, the need for help is immediate as many struggle to find shelter, food and warmth in these dangerous freezing conditions.

You can donate to any of the organizations listed by clicking this link or the button below:

  • The Salvation Army provides shelter, food, and other necessary items to those in need throughout Texas.
  • The American Red Cross is supporting at least 35 warming centers with cots and blankets across the state.
  • In Austin, the area Urban League has started the #LoveThyNeighborTX campaign to raise money for hotel rooms, food, water, clothing and other basic needs of the housing insecure communities.
  • Mercy Chefs is providing hot meals, clean drinking water and USDA Farmers to Families grocery boxes in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
  • The Houston Food Bank is also distributing food to those in need.
  • Austin small business Free Lunch is making deliveries of home-cooked meals, blankets, hand warmers and hygiene kits to the Esperanza Community residents, a state-sanctioned shelter/campsite in the city.
  • The Other Ones Foundation is also providing resiliency kits for residents of the campsite. The kits include basic needs for those experiencing homelessness.
  • Dallas-area organizations Austin Street Center, OurCallingThe StewpotUnion Gospel Mission, and Oak Lawn United Methodist Church are pooling funds to help pay for temporary shelter as well as Covid-19 rapid tests for those in need.
  • Lucille's 1913 Community Kitchen is preparing and distributing meals in the Houston area.
  • Caritas of Austin also helps those experiencing housing insecurity in the Austin area. You can support their work by making a monetary donation or ordering items from their Amazon wish list to be shipped directly to the center.
  • The Coalition for the Homeless of Houston/Harris County is supporting warming centers throughout Houston and Harris County.
  • Austin Pets Alive! is working to keep pets across Texas warm and safe during the freezing conditions. The group needs heating pads, Styrofoam coolers, dog beds, heat lamps and monetary donations.

Impact Your World will continue to update this list as more organizations respond.

9:13 a.m. ET, February 20, 2021

Here's the latest weather forecast for Texas

From CNN's Haley Brink

Temperatures across the southern Plains and Texas are below freezing right now for many locations.

This has prompted hard freeze warnings to be issued for over 10 million people from south Texas to Mississippi until 9 a.m. CT this morning.

Over 30 daily low temperature records are also possible across the region this morning.

This will be the last frigid morning across the state as temperatures are forecast to climb into the 50s and 60s by this afternoon.

9:02 a.m. ET, February 20, 2021

More than 15.1 million people are impacted by water disruptions in Texas

From CNN's Chuck Johnston

Volunteers load cases of water into the bed of a truck during a mass water distribution at Delmar Stadium on February 19 in Houston.
Volunteers load cases of water into the bed of a truck during a mass water distribution at Delmar Stadium on February 19 in Houston. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

More than 15.1 million people have been impacted by water disruptions in Texas as of Saturday morning, according to Gary Rasp, Media Relations Specialist for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

In a statement emailed to CNN, Rasp said that more than 1,300 public water systems have reported service disruptions due to weather.

"As of 7 a.m., more than 1,300 public water systems have reported disruptions in service due to the weather, affecting more than 15.1 million people, many of them leading to Boil Water Notices." 

"189 counties in Texas are affected" by the disruptions, Rasp added.

  

8:52 a.m. ET, February 20, 2021

Hospitals grapple with water, staffing and supply issues after winter storms

From CNN's Ray Sanchez, Keith Allen, Chris Boyette and Hollie Silverman

Emergency Medical Services workers load ambulances at Saint David's Medical Center in south Austin, Texas, after the hospital suffered water problems along with large swaths of the Austin metro area on February 18.
Emergency Medical Services workers load ambulances at Saint David's Medical Center in south Austin, Texas, after the hospital suffered water problems along with large swaths of the Austin metro area on February 18. Bob Daemmrich/ZUMA Wire

Hospitals in Texas are grappling with a series of issues, from burst water pipes to supply chain disruptions, due to severe winter weather across the state, the Texas Hospital Association said Friday.

Many hospitals don't have running water or have burst pipes, low pressure and boil water notices, according to a statement from Carrie Williams, a spokeswoman for the association.

Hospitals also have staffing issues, as some employees have had to stay on site to care for patients, putting a strain on the hospitals' supply of food, linens and water.

Other supplies and medication stocks are running low, although there are some supply trucks moving today, Williams said.

"Hospitals are ready for anything. But this was a sprawling natural disaster that hit us statewide and arrived on top of the pandemic," Williams said.

Many of these issues are faced by a pair of Houston community hospitals, who have been struggling with water and power woes stemming from the freezing temperatures and winter storms.

"You've seen this year that all across the country, people have stepped up and made things happen," Dr. Ben Saldana, the medical director for Houston Methodist's emergency departments, said of the latest crisis confronted by health care providers.

"We are the safety net for our public in the emergency department, our hospitals and doctors or nurses getting together to make sure patients have a safe place and are cared for," he said.

Houston Methodist West and Houston Methodist Baytown hospitals were operating without water until Thursday. Water was back on Friday but there were still issues with low pressure, according to Saldana and a hospital spokeswoman.

"As more of our area hospitals were without power and water, many of their patients ended up at our facilities," Saldana told CNN Friday.

That has meant "kind of bifurcating the ER into an area where Covid is unlikely and an area where it could be possible," he said. "As the volume of dialysis patients increased, this became very difficult. Five out of six patients that need dialysis three times a week had no place to go this week. And we are still struggling with that ... It's become a very difficult proposition for those patients."

The pandemic had forced the Houston hospitals – like many around the country – to operate in crisis mode most of the past year.

Covid-19 vaccinations have been delayed across many hospitals and public health partners due to the weather and shipping delays.

Patients who were discharged have stayed in hospital lobbies because they either don't have transportation to return home or can't return home due to power outages, according to Williams.

There is also a delay in trash pickup due to vendor issues, Williams said.

The Houston Methodist hospitals have water now but the city's boil order is still in place "so we still have water challenges," Gale Smith, spokeswoman for Houston Methodist hospitals, said via email.

"All our hospitals are doing some elective procedures, but we are on our way to being fully operational," she added. "Covid vaccine administration is full speed ahead at all Houston Methodist sites."

8:47 a.m. ET, February 20, 2021

Texans will get some relief from the cold today

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

An aerial view from a drone shows electrical lines running through a neighborhood on February 19, in Austin, Texas. 
An aerial view from a drone shows electrical lines running through a neighborhood on February 19, in Austin, Texas.  Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The brutal temperatures, ice and snow once had power out for millions of Texas, but as of early Saturday morning, only about 85,000 people in the state were left in the dark, according to PowerOutage.US. However, more than half the population – more than 14.9 million people – had disruptions in their water service as of Friday, according to Tiffany Young, a spokeswoman for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Texans will get some relief from the cold Saturday, although many in the state are still without basic utilities.

Saturday morning temperatures may be as low as 20 degrees for many inland locations, including Dallas and College Station, but the welcome return of onshore winds and full sunshine will warm the state into the 50's and 60's in the afternoon, CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said. Most of the state will stay above freezing after that initial thaw.

A weak cold front is expected Sunday evening, but is expected to bring only minimal impacts.